Arkansas, state in the United States, classified as one of the west south central states. The term is appropriate, for west, south, and Midwest states seem to meet in Arkansas. The southwestern section of the state, with its cattle and oil fields, has the feeling of the Western Plains. Dairy farms and orchards in the northwest seem more akin to parts of the Corn Belt, while the cotton plantations in the east toward the Mississippi River are reminiscent of the Deep South.
Arkansas’s natural resources are abundant water; vast forests of quick-growing pines and valuable hardwoods; and extensive deposits of oil, natural gas, and many other minerals.
Arkansas entered the Union on June 15, 1836, as the 25th state. Until the 1950s Arkansas was primarily an agricultural state. Farming was the chief source of income, but a meager source for many, particularly in the uplands, and many people left Arkansas in search of a better livelihood. Then, Arkansas, aided by coordinated planning and new developments in transportation and power production, began to industrialize very rapidly. By the end of the 1950s manufacturing had surpassed farming as the chief source of income, and in the late 1990s Arkansas had an economy dominated by the manufacturing and service sectors. Tourism has also become important.
The state's nickname is The Natural State to call attention to the beauty of its natural environment. The name Arkansas comes from Arkansa, the French name for Native Americans of the Quapaw tribe and the region they inhabited. The s was added as a plural, though it remains silent in the pronunciation formally adopted by the state’s legislature. Little Rock is the capital and largest city of Arkansas.
Arkansas ranks 28th among the states in size, and it covers 137,733 sq km (53,179 sq mi), including 2,875 sq km (1,110 sq mi) of inland water. Its maximum extent north to south is 386 km (240 mi), and east to west 444 km (276 mi). The mean elevation is about 200 m (650 ft).
Arkansas has two well-defined natural regions. A line drawn from the northeastern corner of the state southwestward through Little Rock to Arkadelphia, and from there due west to the Oklahoma border, separates the two regions. North and west of the line are the Interior Highlands; east and south of the line is the Coastal Plain.
The Interior Highlands include the Ozark Mountains, the Ouachita Mountains, and the Arkansas River Valley, which divides the two highland regions. The highest mountain peak in the state, Magazine Mountain, rises abruptly from the Arkansas Valley floor to 839 m (2,753 ft) above sea level. Other isolated peaks in the valley are Sugar Loaf Mountain, Poteau Mountain, Mount Nebo, and Petit Jean Mountain.
North of the Arkansas Valley are the Ozark Mountains, or Ozark Plateau, which lie mainly in southern Missouri. Commonly known as the Ozarks, they are made up of ancient sandstones and limestones. In many places the limestone has been dissolved by water to form caves, sinks (depressions or holes in the earth’s surface), and even underground river channels. The southern part of the Ozarks is known as the Boston Mountains, which extend about 300 km (about 200 mi) from east to west. They form the most rugged part of the Ozarks and are bounded on the north by a gentle escarpment. With peaks more than 700 m (2,300 ft) high, the Boston Mountains are a heavily wooded tangle of steep sandstone ridges and jagged spurs, cut through by gorges as much as 430 m (1,400 ft) deep.
South of the Arkansas Valley are the Ouachita Mountains, which also contain rocks of great age. The rock layers here were subjected to tremendous pressure in the geologic past and were pushed into folds that now form long, narrow ridges that run from east to west and are separated by wide basins. The Ouachitas cover a belt about 80 to 100 km (about 50 to 60 mi) wide extending from just west of Little Rock into Oklahoma. They rise to the west, reaching over 800 m (2,600 ft) at Blue Mountain near the Oklahoma state line.
The Coastal Plain in Arkansas extends across the eastern and southern parts of the state in two sections. The easternmost section is composed of the fertile Mississippi Alluvial Plain. This is often called the Delta, and until it was cleared for agriculture it was an area of swamps, dense forest, and tangled undergrowth. Its flat expanse is broken only by a narrow strip of hills, called Crowley’s Ridge, which extends about 240 km (about 150 mi) from Helena on the Mississippi River north to the Missouri border where it reaches a height of about 170 m (about 550 ft). West of the southern part of the Delta is the West Gulf Coastal Plain, drained by the Saline, Ouachita, and Red rivers.
|B||Rivers and Lakes|
Abundance of water is a distinctive feature of Arkansas. The entire state drains southeastward to the Mississippi River, which forms the eastern boundary of Arkansas. There the Mississippi flows and winds its way across a wide floodplain.
The Arkansas River is a major tributary of the Mississippi River. It rises as a small stream in the Rocky Mountains, and by the time it reaches Arkansas it is a great river flowing between broad banks. The water level on the river fluctuates seasonally. Other major rivers of the state are the Red River, which forms part of the boundary with Texas; the Ouachita River and its tributary, the Saline, which drain south-central Arkansas; the White River and its tributaries, the Black and the Little Red, which gather the runoff of northern Arkansas; and the Saint Francis River, in the northeast, which flows almost parallel to the Mississippi before joining it near Helena.
There are no large natural lakes in Arkansas. The largest bodies of water are reservoirs behind dams. Among the larger of these lakes are Beaver and Greers Ferry reservoirs, Bull Shoals Lake, and Lake Norfolk, all of which are located on the White River or its tributaries; Ozark Reservoir and Dardanelle and Nimrod lakes, all on the Arkansas River or its tributaries; Lake Ouachita, on the Ouachita River, Lake DeGray, on the Caddo River; and Millwood Reservoir, on the Little River, which is a tributary of the Red River.
Except in the Ozark and Ouachita uplands, where temperatures vary considerably from ridge to valley, the climate throughout Arkansas is fairly uniform. Summers are long and moderately hot, and winters are short and relatively mild. However, northward and westward from the Coastal Plain, there is a gradual change from warm winters and hot, humid summers to the clearer, brisker, drier weather and wider range of temperatures associated with the Interior Plains. January temperatures in most of Arkansas average between 3° and 8° C (38° and 46° F). July averages are between 26° and 28° C (78° and 82° F) throughout most of the state. They are usually in the middle 20°s C (upper 70°s F) in the Ozark and Ouachita uplands. Daytime highs in July are frequently in the middle 30°s C (90°s F) and sometimes the temperature rises to the upper 30°s C (lower 100°s F).
Arkansas receives about 1,000 to 1,300 mm (about 40 to 50 in) of precipitation a year, and some areas receive even more. Most of the rain comes during winter and spring and at times is so heavy as to cause flooding. Snow is rare in the south but amounts to more than 250 mm (10 in) a year in the mountains.
Arkansas has a long growing season. It averages 211 days for the state as a whole and ranges from 241 days in the lowlands to 176 days in the mountains. The last killing frost of winter is usually over by mid-March in the south and southeast and by late April in the northwest. In the fall the first killing frost arrives by mid-October in the Ozarks, but it may not be felt at Little Rock until early November.
Arkansas has five major types of soil. The flatlands of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain have dark soils, rich in organic material. This soil, derived mainly from silt brought down by the Mississippi River from the northern prairies, is very fertile and supports cotton, soybeans, and rice crops. Fine silt and wind-deposited loess (yellowish-brown loam) are found on Crowley’s Ridge. The well-drained, rolling land of the ridge is good orchard country and also supports corn crops and pasturelands. Sandy soils and clays characterize much of the Coastal Plain, which is heavily forested with pine trees. The soils of the Ozarks are derived mainly from limestone, while those of the Ouachitas are derived from shale and sandstone. Both of these upland areas have suffered soil erosion, and both Crowley’s Ridge and the Gulf Coastal Plains have even more severe soil erosion problems. However, cattle, poultry, hay, and small grains are still raised.
Forests cover 56 percent of the state, and timber is one of Arkansas’s most valuable resources. Dogwood can be found in most parts of the state, and the pecan tree is widely planted for its shade. Although the bottomlands of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain have been almost completely cleared for cotton, soybeans, and rice, reforestation is encouraged and ongoing. Cypress and water tupelo grow in the swamps and bayous. Water oak, hickory, ash, and holly occur on the better-drained low ridges. Higher still, on Crowley’s Ridge grows the stately tulip poplar, more usually found in the Appalachians, as well as oak, hickory, basswood, and the cucumber tree. Oak and hickory forests also characterize the Ozark region, where white, red, blackjack, and post are true species typical of the oak. These forests also contain black walnut, American elm, and white ash. South of the Arkansas River the oak-hickory forest merges into pine forest, chiefly loblolly and short-leaf pines. The pines grow very rapidly, providing a continuous supply of wood.
Some 2,470 native plants and many exotics, or plants brought from other areas, flourish in Arkansas. The passionflower and water lily, as well as 36 varieties of orchid, grow throughout the state. The American bellflower, blue lobelia, verbena, phlox, yellow jasmine, hibiscus, aster, and wild hydrangea brighten the forested areas. In the spring, dogwood, redbud, crab apple, wild plum, locust, and many other flowering trees burst into bloom.
The bobcat, opossum, muskrat, weasel, rabbit, and squirrel are very common. Red and gray foxes can be found; deer and elk thrive in state and federal game refuges. Black bear reintroduced from Minnesota are thriving in Arkansas’s highlands areas.
The Mississippi River and the lower valleys of its tributaries lie on one of the great flyways for birds migrating between the Gulf of Mexico and Canada. When southward migration begins in the fall, millions of ducks, geese, and other waterfowl are on the move, and many of them find rich feeding grounds in the rice-growing country around Stuttgart. The rice fields also attract many other game birds, among them woodcocks, teal, and quail. Quail are also found in brush patches all over the state, and, through protection, the wild turkey is increasing in numbers in upland and lowland areas. The level country is the habitat of several species of warblers, the painted bunting, and the mockingbird, the state bird. Herons wade in lowland streams, and the Mississippi kite, Bachman’s sparrow, blue grosbeak, and chuck-will’s-widow occur in the Delta country of the Mississippi-Arkansas-White river floodplain. In mountain areas the whippoorwill, Eastern phoebe, American goldfinch, and brown thrasher are common. The Ozarks-Ouachita region is also the breeding ground for such species as the scarlet tanager, ovenbird, summer tanager, Carolina wren, rufous-sided towhee, and roadrunner.
The poisonous snakes in Arkansas are the cottonmouth water moccasin, copperhead, coral snake, and three species of rattlesnake. Non-poisonous snakes include the speckled king snake, black snake, blue racer, and garter snake. Turtles, frogs, lizards, and salamanders are plentiful, and a few alligators are found in the swamplands of south central Arkansas.
The rivers, streams, and lakes of the state in general support a wide variety of fish, including largemouth and spotted bass, catfish, and several species of bream. Mountain waters contain smallmouth bass and the colorful darter. The broad, slow rivers of the Delta teem with crappie, sturgeon, buffalo fish, and pickerel. Striped bass have been introduced to many reservoirs, and trout populations are found below dams in the White River system. Norfolk National Fish Hatchery is the largest trout hatchery in the country. Each year about 2 million recently hatched fish, called fingerlings, are introduced into many Ozark waters, including the White, Spring, and Little Red rivers. The White River and its tributaries also provide good habitat for freshwater mussels.
Soil erosion is widespread in Arkansas. The most widely eroded areas are Crowley’s Ridge and the Gulf Coastal Plain. In 1937 Arkansas was the first state to pass legislation to organize voluntary soil conservation districts.
President Theodore Roosevelt took an active interest in conserving the state’s timber resources, and he set aside the Ouachita National Forest in 1907 and the Ozark National Forest in 1908. The move to preserve Arkansas’s forests was made just in time. Great inroads had already been made into the state’s vast stands of virgin timber. Moreover, heavy rains had washed away the soil on the treeless land, increasing the danger of flooding. Since the first quarter of the 20th century, however, a great deal of research and effort has been directed to the simultaneous conservation of all the state’s resources, including soil, water, forests, and wildlife, through multipurpose river basin development. The lumber industry has followed conservation practices for many years, and since 1933, its work has been supplemented by the Arkansas forestry commission. Federal government wildlife refuges have also been established.
The eastern border of Arkansas is protected by high levees, or embankments, from the occasional floods of the Mississippi River. When this giant river is in flood, it is likely not only to submerge its own alluvial plain but also to back up the waters of its tributaries, the Saint Francis, the White, and the Arkansas rivers, and inundate their valleys. In 1927 the Mississippi flooded about one-seventh of the total area of Arkansas, in one of the greatest peacetime disasters in United States history. The following year, Congress authorized a river control program. Serious flooding, however, has developed in other river valleys of Arkansas. But in the second half of the 20th century many large dams were built for flood control, as well as other purposes, on the White and Ouachita rivers and their tributaries. Dams on the tributaries of the Arkansas River and the dams and locks of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, completed in 1971, have done much to limit the destruction once caused by the Arkansas River.
Arkansas has laws controlling the emission of contaminants into the air, requiring the licensing of operators of waste water treatment plants, setting standards for sewage and sewerage treatment, and requiring companies engaged in strip mining to reclaim stripped lands by filling and planting. The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Department is responsible for monitoring the effects of industry, mining, and agriculture on the environment. In addition, the Arkansas Department of Health monitors water quality levels in the state.
In 2006 Arkansas had 10 hazardous waste sites on a national priority list for cleanup due to their severity or proximity to people.
In the early days of settlement, some farsighted Arkansans recognized that the region possessed valuable resources other than furs and hides. But the opportunities for economic development were limited. In the 1870s, railroads set up land offices to encourage new settlers, for more landholders in the state meant more farm products for rail shipment. Toward the end of the century, lumbering, still a major Arkansas industry, expanded rapidly in the immense, level pinelands of the south and the dense hardwoods of the Delta country. Coal mining, too, developed in the Arkansas River Valley as the railroad network was expanded.
By the 1920s, cotton growing had shifted toward the Mississippi lowlands, livestock raising and dairying were increased, and oil had been discovered near the Texas and Louisiana borders. But, except for a flourishing wood-products industry, there was little manufacturing, and most Arkansans who left the land learned industrial skills outside the state.
In the later half of the 20th century manufacturing became important. The Arkansas Industrial Development Commission was established in 1955 to bring new industries into the state, expand existing ones, and provide technical assistance in locating factories. Within five years Arkansas had achieved extensive industrialization.
Arkansas had a work force of 1,365,000 people in 2006. The largest share of those, 32 percent, worked in the diverse services sector, which includes such occupations as health care workers and automobile mechanics. Another 21 percent were employed in wholesale or retail trade; 15 percent in manufacturing; 18 percent in federal, state, or local government, including those in the military; 4 percent in farming (including agricultural services), forestry, or fishing; 21 percent in transportation or public utilities; 5 percent in construction; 14 percent in finance, insurance, or real estate; and just 0.8 percent in mining. In 2005, 5 percent of the state’s workers were members of a labor union.
Farms in Arkansas range from tiny cultivated patches in the narrow valley bottoms and on the steep slopes of the Ozark-Ouachita uplands to prosperous commercial farms in the Arkansas River valley and large commercial farms in the Mississippi bottomlands. In 2005 there were 47,000 farms in Arkansas, 44 percent of which had annual sales of $10,000 or more. Farmland occupied 5.8 million hectares (14.4 million acres), of which 66 percent was cropland. Many of those working on Arkansas farms are farm operators or members of their families, who do not work for wages.
Although its agriculture is becoming more and more diversified, Arkansas remains one of the leading cotton-producing states. Cotton was introduced into Arkansas about 1800, and was first grown by homesteaders. Later, when steamboat transportation opened up the fertile bottomlands, landowners arrived from other cotton-growing states to cultivate large plantations with slave labor.
In the 1930s the cultivation of soybeans was encouraged by the Soil Conservation Service as a means of replenishing the fertility of soils impoverished by the growing of cotton. Farmers began to appreciate its advantages as a cash crop well suited to mechanization, and in the 1950s there was a huge increase in soybean acreage. Soybeans have now become Arkansas’s most valuable crop.
Rice was first introduced to the state in 1904. By the mid-1970s, Arkansas ranked as the nation’s leading rice-producing state, a rank it still holds. The state produces two-fifths of all the rice grown in the United States. Other important crops are wheat, sorghum grain, and hay (including lespedeza, alfalfa, clover, and wild hay) and similar plants used for livestock feed. Tomatoes, peaches, apples, grapes, strawberries, pecans, snap beans, sweet potatoes, watermelons, and spinach are also grown. Crops of winter wheat are increasingly grown in the Mississippi Plain.
Arkansas ranks first among the states in production of broilers and is also a leading producer of turkeys and eggs. Poultry and poultry products generate over two-fifths of all farm income. Poultry farms are found throughout western Arkansas on marginal land in the highlands. Cattle raising and dairying, conducted mainly in the northwestern and northern sections of the state and in the lower Arkansas River valley, have become important in Arkansas since the 1920s. The quality of cattle has been greatly improved, and ranchers have shown great interest in the Santa Gertrudis, a sturdy breed developed in Texas and well suited to Arkansas’s hot summers.
The forests of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain contain considerable oak forests along with cypress, water tupelo, black and sweet gum. South of the Arkansas River in the Ouachitas and the Gulf Coastal Plain, the vast coniferous forests of loblolly and shortleaf pine supply saw mills. In the Ozarks, oak and hickory forests once formed the basis of a thriving woodworking industry. While the oak and hickory forests remain, the woodworking industry has diminished.
Development of its rich mineral resources has helped to bring industrial growth to Arkansas. Two mineral fuels—petroleum and natural gas—account for much of the state’s income from mining. Beds of high quality bituminous and semianthracite coal underlie about 4,100 sq km (about 1,600 sq mi) of the Arkansas River valley in the western part of the state. There are also vast deposits of lignite in central and southwest Arkansas whose uses were explored in the 1980s. Natural gas occurs in the upper western Arkansas River valley, and it also flows in great quantities from oil wells in southwestern Arkansas. There, however, since the gas is of a type that needs to be processed before burning, most of it is converted into gasoline or other valuable by-products and is not used as a fuel itself.
Arkansas became a petroleum-producing state in the early 1920s, when oil fields were discovered near El Dorado, in the southern part of the state. The chief producing regions are now Lafayette, Columbia, and Union counties.
Arkansas leads the nation in the production of bromine, used in gasoline antiknock mixtures and other chemicals. The state also has important deposits of building stone. Most of the good building stone is found in the Ozark Mountains. Also mined in Arkansas are significant quantities of limestone, barite, and silica. Bauxite deposits, which are concentrated in central Arkansas, are no longer mined commercially.
Arkansas has one of two diamond mines in the United States, the other being located near Fort Collins, Colorado. The diamonds of Pike County, in southwestern Arkansas, were found in 1906 in the pipe of an ancient volcano. The mine was worked from 1908 until 1925, when it became inactive. In 1971 it became the Crater of Diamonds State Park, where visitors may keep any diamonds they find. Some sizable gem stones have been found, but most are of industrial quality.
Industry is the state’s largest source of income. Until the 1940s most of Arkansas’s industry was based on the local output of forest, farm, and mine. However, in the second half of the 20th century the importance of such industries declined, and the state experienced a great upsurge in the production of consumer goods. Many textile and leather plants were opened in the state, as well as factories to produce electrical machinery, fabricated metals, and transportation equipment. Still, in terms of value added by the manufacturing process, the turning of Arkansas’s natural resources into goods remains the leading industry. The processing of food products far exceeds any other industrial activity in value, particularly the preparation of meat and the packaging of fruits and vegetables. Following in importance are the production of lumber and wood products and the milling of paper, both dependent on the forests in the state. The principal industrial centers are Little Rock, Fort Smith, Pine Bluff, and the Fayetteville-Springdale area.
Wood processing and furniture making are important in central and western Arkansas, notably at Pine Bluff and Fort Smith, and also in many Ozark towns, such as Rogers in the northwest. Paper products are made at Camden, Pine Bluff, Crossett, Ashdown, and other centers in the southern pine belt. El Dorado, also in the south, is a center of oil refineries and chemical plants.
Rice processing, cotton ginning, and the manufacture of cottonseed oil are old, established industries at Stuttgart, Jonesboro, and other cities and towns of the northeast and east. Many food processing plants have been built to accommodate the poultry production. These plants are located in the small- to medium-sized towns in the Ozarks, along the Arkansas River valley, and in western Arkansas. However, many new plants, making such items as electronics equipment, air conditioners, shoes, and light metal goods, have been established in the state.
The federal government has developed hydroelectric power in the Arkansas, White, and Ouachita river basins. The largest and most famous of the dams is Bull Shoals on the White River. Additional dams, built as part of the Arkansas River Navigation Project, provide for improved flood control as well as expanded power production. The first nuclear power plant in the region was established at Russellville. Conventional steam-powered plants fueled by coal generate 61 percent of the electricity produced in the state, nuclear power plants provide another 29 percent, and the remainder comes from hydroelectric facilities.
The tourist industry is one of Arkansas’s most important sources of income. Visitors spend $3.9 billion each year in the state. More than 2 million people are attracted to national parks in Arkansas, while nearly 8 million people use the many state parks.
The arrival of the first steamboat at Little Rock in 1822 caused a transportation revolution in Arkansas. Reaching its peak in the years immediately following the Civil War, steamboat travel remained the principal means of transport until the emergence of the railroads in the late 1870s.
Roads, which had to be hacked out of the tangled undergrowth of the Mississippi bottomlands or the dense forest of the uplands, were slow in developing in Arkansas. The Southwest Trail, along the edge of the Ozarks and Ouachitas, was the best known of Arkansas’s early roads. Today, the focus of transportation routes in Arkansas is Little Rock. Arkansas has a network of 158,779 km (98,661 mi) of federal, state, and local roads, including 1,056 km (656 mi) of interstate highways. The state is served by a system of 4,332 km (2,692 mi) of railroad track. Arkansas has 9 airports, but only one, at Little Rock, falls into the largest commercial classification.
Early in the 19th century, Little Rock began to develop as a commercial center. During the California gold rush of the 1840s, Fort Smith boomed as a supply depot. Pine Bluff became the state’s leading cotton port after the American Civil War (1861-1865); with the arrival of the railroad it also became a lumber center. The railroads also fostered the growth of other cities.
Today, Little Rock is still the center of trade. The completion in 1971 of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, tying in to the Mississippi River-Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, has made the Arkansas an important part of the nation’s inland waterways (see Intracoastal Waterway). Little Rock, Fort Smith, and Pine Bluff are major ports on the Arkansas; the state’s only ports on the Mississippi are Osceola and Helena.
|IV||THE PEOPLE OF ARKANSAS|
In the 2000 national census, Arkansas had 2,673,400 inhabitants, compared with 2,350,725 in 1990. Between 1940 and 1960 Arkansas lost population as its displaced farm workers moved to other states in search of jobs. The development of new industries, beginning in the late 1950s, reversed this trend; between 1970 and 1980 the population increased by 18.9 percent, it grew 2.8 percent between 1980 and 1990, and 13.7 percent between 1990 and 2000.
The urban population of Arkansas has risen steadily. The rural population declined from the 1940s through the 1960s, but in the 1970s it again increased. Nevertheless, the urbanizing trend continued. By 2000, 53 percent of the people of Arkansas lived in areas defined as urban. The average population density in 2006 was 21 persons per sq km (54 per sq mi).
Whites make up 80 percent of Arkansas’s population and blacks comprise 15.7 percent. Between 1860 and 1930 blacks made up more than one-third of the population. Beginning in the 1930s, many blacks left Arkansas to seek employment in the North, and their numbers in the state declined. While the total number of blacks is again increasing, the percentage increase is less than the growth in the population as a whole, so their proportion of the state’s people continues to decline. Native Americans account for 0.7 percent of the population, Asians 0.1 percent, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders 0.1 percent, and those of mixed heritage or not reporting race 2.8 percent. Hispanics, who may be of any race, are 3.2 percent of the people.
The principal cities are Little Rock, with a 2006 population of 184,422, the state capital and chief commercial center, on the Arkansas River; Fort Smith (83,461), an industrial center; North Little Rock (58,896), on the opposite bank of the river; Pine Bluff (51,758), a center of the state’s wood-processing industry; Jonesboro (60,489), a commercial and farm-goods processing center; Fayetteville (68,726), an industrial city and distribution center for a rich agricultural region; and Hot Springs (38,468), a resort and spa in the Ouachita Mountains.
Roman Catholic missionaries were only a step behind the explorers and soldiers in entering Arkansas. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Protestantism was brought to Arkansas by settlers from the southern Appalachian states and Missouri. Methodists organized prayer meetings along the Spring River in 1815, and the Dwight Mission for the Cherokees was opened by Congregationalists in 1822. Baptists and Presbyterians were also represented during that period. The first Jewish congregation was established in 1870 at Little Rock. In the late 19th century, when the railroads brought groups of German, Italian, and Polish immigrants to Arkansas, many new Roman Catholic congregations were organized. Today more than two-fifths of all church members are Baptists. The next largest denomination is the Methodists, whose members account for less than one-tenth of religious adherents.
|VI||EDUCATION AND CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS|
The earliest schools in Arkansas were set up by the missionaries. As early as 1689 the French deeded several thousand acres of land near Arkansas Post to the Jesuits, who promised to instruct the Native Americans. Protestant missionary schooling began near Russellville in 1822, when the Congregationalists opened the Dwight Mission. Private academies flourished after statehood. In 1843 legislation was passed to establish a system of public schools in the state. Provisions for free public schools were first included in the Reconstruction constitution of 1868.
State law requires all children between the ages of 5 and 17 to attend school. Only 80.5 percent of those over age 25 in the state have high school diplomas, one of the lowest rates in the country (the national average was 84.1 percent). In the 2002–2003 school year Arkansas spent $7,275 on each student’s education, compared to a national average of $9,299. There were 14.7 students for every teacher, compared to the national average of 15.9 students. Some 6 percent of the state’s children attend private schools.
Arkansas has 33 public institutions of higher education and 14 private institutions. Among them are the University of Arkansas, with branches in Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Little Rock, Monticello, Pine Bluff, and Morrilton; Lyon College, in Batesville; Arkansas State University, in Jonesboro; Arkansas Baptist College, in Little Rock; University of the Ozarks, in Clarksville; Harding University, in Searcy; Henderson State University, in Arkadelphia; and Hendrix College and the University of Central Arkansas, in Conway.
The first circulating library in Arkansas maintained wholly for the public benefit was established in Little Rock in 1843 by William E. Woodruff, founder of the Arkansas Gazette. The Helena Public Library was founded in 1888, and in 1911 it became the first tax-supported library in the state. By 1926 the state’s first county library had been established, and within a decade the Arkansas library commission was created to promote such libraries, especially in rural areas. Today Arkansas has 47 library systems. Each year the libraries circulate an average of 4.3 books for each resident. The largest library in the state is that of the University of Arkansas. It is noted for its collection of Arkansiana.
The museum of the University of Arkansas contains archaeological and historical exhibits. The Old State House in Little Rock, a Greek Revival building that served as Arkansas’s first state capitol until 1911, houses a historical museum. Also in Little Rock are the Arkansas Museum of Science and History, housed in the former Little Rock Arsenal (the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur); the Arkansas Territorial Restoration, a historic site museum; the Children’s Museum of Arkansas; and the Arkansas Arts Center museum. The Hampson Museum in Wilson has a fine collection of Mound Builder artifacts.
The state’s first newspaper was the weekly Arkansas Gazette, established at Arkansas Post in 1819. In 1821 the newspaper was moved to Little Rock, where it became a daily in 1865. The state’s first daily was the Little Rock True Democrat. In 2002 there were 125 newspapers published in Arkansas, 29 of them dailies.
Arkansas’s first commercial radio station was established in Pine Bluff in 1920. Its first television station was established in Little Rock in 1953. In 2002 there were 62 AM and 91 FM radio stations and 16 television stations in the state.
Little Rock has a symphony orchestra, a Bach society, and a choral society. Folk music still flourishes in the rural districts. During the spring and summer months, folk and blues music festivals are held in many counties.
|VII||RECREATION AND PLACES OF INTEREST|
Arkansas offers excellent opportunities for recreation. The visitor to Arkansas may enjoy a backwoods vacation in some rustic Ozark retreat or sample the more sophisticated pleasures of a cosmopolitan spa. The trail of history leads to many interesting places: the site of Arkansas Post, where French explorer Henri de Tonty established a fort in 1686; Washington, where Sam Houston, Stephen Austin, and Davy Crockett are said to have met in a tavern to plan the independence of Texas; and the Civil War battlefield at Pea Ridge. Fall is the season for livestock shows, county fairs, and folk dance festivals. Duck hunters come for the shooting season, and fishing enthusiasts find excellent opportunities in many of Arkansas’s lakes and streams.
The National Park Service administers five national sites in Arkansas. The first European settlement in the lower Mississippi River Valley is commemorated at Arkansas Post National Memorial, in Gillette. The post’s construction by a lieutenant of French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle was an opening move in a struggle between France, Spain, and England for control of the North American interior. Fort Smith National Historic Site at Fort Smith was one of the first U.S. military posts in the Louisiana Territory. From here government policy toward Native Americans was enforced. Pea Ridge National Military Park commemorates a victory by Union forces during the Civil War which led to control of the Missouri River by Northern forces. Hot Springs National Park contains 47 hot springs used for many years for therapeutic treatments. Buffalo National River, with headquarters in Harrison, is one of the few remaining free-flowing rivers in the lower 48 states. The river cuts through massive limestone bluffs on its course through the Ozark Mountains.
There are three national forests in Arkansas, covering about 970,000 hectares (about 2.4 million acres) of land ranging from flatland, to rolling hills, to beautiful mountains. The largest is Ouachita National Forest, part of which lies in Oklahoma. It offers many attractions, including Lake Ouachita and historic Caddo Gap, where Hernando De Soto, the Spanish explorer who in the 1540s was the first European to explore the region, fought the Native Americans. Seven wilderness areas are preserved in the forest. Ozark National Forest is in four separate areas, three north of the Arkansas River and one south of it. It includes four national wildlife refuges, a number of state game and fish refuges, five wilderness areas, and many scenic drives. Saint Francis National Forest covers a small region in eastern Arkansas along the Saint Francis River.
Arkansas has 47 state parks. Devil’s Den State Park, in a rugged part of the Boston Mountains, contains unusual sandstone formations and a giant crevice, known as the Devil’s Ice Box, where the temperature never goes above 16° C (60° F). Petit Jean State Park, located on Petit Jean Mountain near the Arkansas River, is the oldest and one of the more beautiful state parks. Crowley’s Ridge State Park, at Walcott, is noted for its fossils of prehistoric plants and animals. Excellent fishing, boating, swimming, and picnicking facilities may be enjoyed at De Gray Lake, Bull Shoals, Lake Catherine, and Lake Ouachita state parks.
|D||Other Places to Visit|
Arkansas’s underground caverns attract many visitors every year. One of the most popular is Blanchard Springs Caverns, near Mountain View, which contains miles of explored passages. Another much visited cave is Diamond Cave, near Jasper. Magnet Cove, east of Hot Springs, is considered a geological wonder, for nearly 100 different minerals are found there in an area of only 13 sq km (5 sq mi). Mammoth Spring, in northern Arkansas, is one of the world’s largest springs.
Annual events include the Oaklawn Horse Racing Season in Hot Springs; the Arkansas Folk Festival in Mountain View, in April; the Old Fort Days Rodeo and River Festival in Fort Smith, in June; the Quapaw Quarter tour of historic homes in Little Rock, in May; the Arkansas State Fair and Livestock Exposition in Little Rock, in October; and the World’s Championship Duck-Calling Contest in Stuttgart, in November.
Arkansas has had five constitutions since it was admitted to the Union. The present constitution was adopted in 1874 and has been amended frequently since then. Constitutional amendments may be proposed by the state legislature, by a constitutional convention, or by a petition of 10 percent of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election. Approval by a popular majority is required.
Officials of the executive branch of the state government include the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, attorney general, and commissioner of lands. Since 1986 all have been elected for four-year terms.
The legislature, known as the General Assembly, consists of a Senate of 35 members, elected for four-year terms, and a House of Representatives of 100 members, elected for two-year terms. The legislature meets in regular session in odd-numbered years, beginning on the second Monday in January. Sessions are limited to 60 days but may be extended by a two-thirds vote in both houses.
The judiciary consists of a seven-member supreme court; circuit courts; chancery courts; and county, municipal, and justice-of-the-peace courts. A county judge has wide powers to manage county affairs generally and preside over juvenile courts, county court sessions, and the county justices of the peace when they sit as a quorum court. The quorum court levies taxes and appropriates funds for county offices and agencies.
Arkansas has 75 counties, each of which is administered by a county judge. Other elected county officials include the treasurer, assessor, sheriff, clerk, coroner, surveyor, and collector. Until 1956, when Little Rock adopted the council and city manager plan, municipal government in Arkansas was traditionally by mayor and council. Since then most other cities have adopted the council and city manager plan.
Arkansas has two U.S. senators and four U.S. representatives. The state has six electoral votes in presidential elections.
During the prehistoric period, successive waves of human culture spread over Arkansas. Nomadic hunter-gatherers, whose culture is called Paleo-Indians by archaeologists, were present about 10,500 to 12,000 years ago. Divided into small bands, they ranged widely over the area, hunting many now-extinct animals. Next was the Dalton era, which started about 10,500 years ago and lasted about 1,000 years. The Dalton-era Sloan site in northeast Arkansas ranks as one of the oldest prehistoric cemeteries in the United States. The Dalton period saw the introduction of improved stone tools, notably the adze, a woodworking tool. In the Archaic period, 9,500 to 3,000 years ago, woven baskets and highly specialized stone tools abounded. The people of the Woodland era, beginning about 3,000 years ago, practiced horticulture and mound building, and made clay pottery. The mound complex in Toltec State Park on the Arkansas River was erected during this era. These mounds were apparently used for ceremonies.
Large burial mounds were a prominent feature of the final prehistoric culture, the Mississippian, which began about 700 ad. The Mississippians used bows and arrows, conducted organized warfare, and erected cities that depended on an agriculture of corn and beans. The first European to witness the Mississippian culture was the ill-fated Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541.
|B||Exploration and Settlement|
|B1||The de Soto Expedition|
Landing his army in Florida in 1539, de Soto explored the area of the southeastern United States, searching for mineral treasure. After crossing the Mississippi in 1541, the expedition explored Arkansas for gold and silver. Finding none, they turned back, and de Soto died in 1542. Some archaeologists and historians believe he died in Arkansas. His soldiers furtively sank his body in a river in fear that the local people would desecrate it if they found it. He had made enemies all along his route by his attempts to dominate the residents and confiscate food and supplies from them.
The expedition left in 1543, and only a pitiful remnant survived to return to their starting point in Mexico. The expedition was also a disaster for the Native Americans because the Spanish brought European diseases to which they had no immunity. A severe population decline soon occurred, almost certainly caused by the spread of these diseases. The central Mississippi Valley was almost empty of people by the time the French arrived in 1673.
The Spanish did not return after 1543. France, however, was interested in exploring the Mississippi as a route for trade. In 1673 a French party of seven explorers, led by Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, came down the river from the north. At the southern end of their journey they visited the four villages of a people now called the Quapaw, who lived where the Arkansas River flows into the Mississippi. One of their villages had a name recorded as Arkansea, which the French called Arkansas. That name was given to the river, the region, and later the state.
The Quapaw spoke a language of the Siouan group, and most of the languages in that group were spoken near the Great Lakes or the Atlantic coast. Thus historians and archaeologists are divided as to whether the Quapaw were a remnant of the Mississippian culture or had recently come to the area.
Tempted by the prospect of a trading empire on the Mississippi, French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, continued where Marquette left off. From Arkansas he followed the Mississippi to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico in 1682. On the basis of this exploration he claimed all the land drained by the Mississippi for France, naming it Louisiane (in English, Louisiana). La Salle granted land in Arkansas to his trusted lieutenant Henri de Tonty, who in 1686 founded a trading station at Poste des Arkansas (Arkansas Post), near the Quapaw villages. This was the first French settlement west of the Mississippi and in the lower Mississippi Valley.
Besides the Quapaw, the French encountered other Native American peoples. The most powerful were the Osage, a Siouan-speaking tribe who lived in Missouri but sought to exclude the Quapaw and others from hunting in western Arkansas. Osage dominance limited the growth of the little colony at Arkansas Post. On the Red River lived the Caddo, who were probably descended from the peoples encountered by de Soto. They were weakened by disease and about 1805 were driven out of the state into Texas by Osage aggression. Another small tribe, the Taensa, had been pushed into the present-day state of Louisiana by 1673.
In 1717 a Scottish financier named John Law, director of a French bank, evolved an elaborate plan to populate Louisiana with white settlers and exploit the wealth of the Mississippi Valley. He sent white colonists and black slaves to Arkansas Post and planned to establish a duchy there for himself. The project, which came to be known as the Mississippi Bubble, collapsed in 1720 because Law issued thousands of shares of overpriced stock to finance it. Most of the colonists abandoned Arkansas Post and camped on the lower Mississippi above the new city of New Orleans.
Later, the colonists at Arkansas Post supplied bear oil, tallow, buffalo meat, skins, and furs to the New Orleans market. Other settlements arose at the mouth of the White River in 1766; at Hopefield, opposite the future site of Memphis, in 1797; and at Helena, also in 1797. But settlement was slow, and by 1800 Arkansas had fewer than 400 settlers.
In 1762 France ceded Louisiana to Spain; at the end of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the part east of the Mississippi was ceded to Great Britain. After the Spanish joined the French and Americans against Great Britain in the American Revolution (1775-1783), a British force attacked Arkansas Post in 1783. The attack was unsuccessful, and the territory remained in Spanish hands at the end of the Revolutionary War. It was returned to France in 1800 by the Treaty of San Ildefonso. Three years later the region, including all the land that is now Arkansas, was bought by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. In 1806 most of the present state became the Arkansas District.
Further explorations were made, mainly along the rivers, and new settlements were established. In 1804 President Thomas Jefferson sent William Dunbar and George Hunter to survey the Ouachita River and the Hot Springs area. In 1806 Lieutenant James B. Wilkinson, the son of territorial governor James Wilkinson, explored the Arkansas River from Kansas down to the Mississippi, and in 1818 Henry Rowe Schoolcraft traveled down the White River.
In 1812 the Arkansas District became Arkansas County of the Territory of Missouri. In 1819 the separate Arkansas Territory was organized, with its capital at Arkansas Post.
In 1821 Little Rock, a new town 128 km (80 mi) up the Arkansas River from Arkansas Post, became the territorial capital. In 1824 and 1825 the Osage and Quapaw concluded treaties surrendering their lands in Arkansas. However, after 1817 the federal government moved parts of the Cherokee and Choctaw nations into western Arkansas from east of the Mississippi. This caused conflict between whites and Native Americans and hindered white settlement. After the Choctaw and Cherokee, in 1825 and 1828 respectively, traded their lands in Arkansas for new lands in the west, settlement proceeded rapidly. As the whites came in, the Quapaw were moved—first to Louisiana and, in the mid-1800s, to a reservation in Oklahoma. The Osage were moved by 1836, first to a reservation in Kansas and later to land they bought from the Cherokee in Oklahoma. The settler population of Arkansas Territory, which had been only 1,062 in 1810 and 14,273 in 1820, jumped to more than 50,000 by 1835 as more settlers streamed in. Spurred by the population boom, Arkansas petitioned for admission to the federal Union and received it on June 15, 1836, becoming the 25th state.
From 1836 until the American Civil War started in 1861, settlement continued and slaveholding spread as plantation owners developed the rich cotton lands of southern and eastern Arkansas and the river bottoms of the northwest. The number of slaves rose from 4,576 in 1830 to 47,100 by 1850 and to 111,115, more than 25 percent of the state’s population, by 1860. Arkansas became the sixth-ranking cotton state, with an output in 1860 of 367,393 bales or 83,323 metric tons. Although independent small farmers greatly outnumbered plantation owners, the plantation owners controlled the state politically. Slaves and cotton were concentrated in the southeast, but every county had slaves and grew some cotton, and was therefore affected by the mounting attacks on slavery by representatives of Northern states in the Congress of the United States.
The early years of statehood were marked by hard times. Two banks were chartered in 1836, but they failed in the national depression of 1837, leaving the new state with a $3,000,000 debt and no banks. Money was scarce in the 1840s, and merchants became both moneylenders and suppliers of provisions. The cotton boom of the 1850s, however, brought prosperity. Steamboats took the state’s cotton and other farm products to New Orleans and brought back manufactured goods. Mills and factories in Arkansas produced lumber, flour, meal, cotton and woolen thread, and leather. From the state’s mineral-rich land came zinc, lead, iron, coal, manganese, and whetstones. Commerce flourished with ports on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Schools and academies were opened, newspapers and magazines multiplied, and the professions expanded. Beginning in 1849 Fort Smith, on the western border, became a center for outfitting gold prospectors on their way to California. By 1861 Arkansas had both telegraph lines and railroads, marking a new age in communication and transportation.
|F||Civil War and Reorganization|
Slavery was one of the most important issues dominating national politics in the first half of the 19th century. Politicians of the Northern states pressed to end it, both because it was considered immoral and because white labor could not compete with unpaid black labor. Politicians of the cotton-growing Southern states, including Arkansas, felt that slavery was necessary to their agricultural system and that the North was trying to dominate the country economically. Many in the plantation owner class were in favor of secession from the federal Union and formation of a separate Southern nation.
In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected president as the candidate of the Republican Party, which opposed the spread of slavery. The Southern state of South Carolina had threatened to secede if the Republicans won the presidency, and in December 1860 it did so. Other Southern states followed. In Arkansas, secession was postponed by strong Unionist feeling in the mountainous northwestern part of the state, where there were few slaves. On May 6, 1861, however, a state convention voted for secession with only one delegate, Isaac Murphy, dissenting. Arkansas was the ninth state to withdraw from the Union. It joined the Confederate States of America, or Confederacy, which had been formed by the seceding states on February 8, 1861.
Confederate and Union armies fought for control of the state in more than 60 encounters. The biggest and bloodiest was the Battle of Pea Ridge, in northwestern Arkansas, which took place March 6 through 8, 1862. Here the Confederate army of Major General Earl Van Dorn attacked a smaller Union army under Major General Samuel Curtis and suffered a serious defeat. In July Curtis reached Helena, having devastated the plantation system in eastern Arkansas. Later, at the Battle of Prairie Grove (December 7, 1862), Confederate General Thomas C. Hindman unsuccessfully attacked the Union Army forces in northwestern Arkansas. By the end of 1863 Little Rock, Helena, and Fort Smith were under Union control. The Confederate state capital was moved to Washington in the southwestern part of the state.
An antislavery government loyal to the Union, under Isaac Murphy as governor, was established at Little Rock in 1864. Thus, until the Confederacy surrendered in April 1865, Arkansas had two governments. After the surrender, the Murphy government was opposed at home by ex-Confederates and in Congress by the Radical wing of the Republican Party, which refused to readmit Arkansas to the Union until blacks were given the right to vote.
In 1866 and 1867 the legislature, controlled by ex-Confederates calling themselves Conservative-Democrats, passed repressive measures against blacks and sent former Confederates to Congress. Because of these actions, which were duplicated elsewhere in the South, the Radical Republicans in Congress substituted harsh measures for the lenient plan that President Andrew Johnson had made for the restoration, or Reconstruction, of the Union.
In 1867 Arkansas, along with all other former Confederate states except Tennessee, was placed under federal military rule. An election for a constitutional convention was held in which blacks voted for the first time. The newly organized state Republican Party won the election. Early in 1868 the convention drew up a constitution that extended the vote and full civil rights to blacks, provided for tax-supported public schools for the first time, and called for a state election. In that election, the constitution was ratified and the Republicans were victorious. The new legislature met and ratified the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which guaranteed civil rights for blacks. On June 22, 1868, Arkansas was readmitted to the Union and its Republican delegation was seated. In July, Republican Powell Clayton succeeded Murphy as governor.
Many whites opposed the military occupation and what they viewed as Northern rule based on black votes. Opposition groups, including the notorious Ku Klux Klan, were organized secretly to intimidate blacks by violence.
Nevertheless, Republicans controlled the state government until 1874. They set up free public schools; founded a university that became the University of Arkansas; established a school for the deaf; protected the rights of black citizens; prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan; encouraged immigration; provided for payment of the state’s debts; and extended state financial aid to the building of railroads and levees. The Conservatives denounced the Republicans for plunging the state into debt and accused them of financial corruption. Furthermore, the Conservatives maintained that the Republicans ruled through fraudulent political practices such as barring white opponents from voting, exploiting black voters, and using multiple voting and dishonest vote counting. The charges of the Conservatives were only partly justified. The debt problem was in large part due to a nationwide depression of 1873 and to the critical need for railroads, levees, and rebuilding of public facilities. The charges of stealing money were never proved.
There was some corruption in the state Republican Party, however, and it culminated in what was known as the Brooks-Baxter War. Elisha Baxter, a Republican, won the 1872 election for governor; his opponent, Joseph Brooks, also a Republican, charged fraud. In early 1874 armed forces of the two rivals clashed on Main Street in Little Rock. Other clashes occurred elsewhere around the state, and about 200 people were killed. President Ulysses S. Grant eventually declared that Baxter was the governor.
The Republican turmoil permitted the Conservatives, who by then identified themselves with the Democratic Party, to regain control of the state that year and draw up a new constitution. They repudiated the debts incurred by the Republicans for levees and railroads, paid off the pre-Civil War bank debt, retrenched on expenditures for needed state services, halted funding to the public schools and the state university, and used ruthless methods to keep themselves in office. Although the Democrats were under the control of railroad and business interests, they retained the support of white Arkansas farmers by calling for white solidarity. The Democrats acclaimed the future of Arkansas in a “New South” that they pictured as throbbing with economic progress. However, Arkansas remained a cotton-growing state, with its farmers suffering great hardship because of low crop prices, high railroad rates, and exorbitant prices for manufactured goods.
The state’s blacks made some progress during Reconstruction. They enjoyed the rights of citizens, founded schools and churches, developed a black professional class, and adjusted to the new agricultural system of sharecropping and tenant farming. Three-fourths of black families in Arkansas, and nearly half of white families, labored under this system. An entire family provided labor on a farm in return for a share of the crop they produced, and the owner of the land provided equipment, animals, seed, and housing. If the profit on the crop was low, the landowner took his share first. The cropper or tenant took what was left or, if none was left, got an advance to keep going until the next harvest.
|H||Economic Expansion and Farm Revolt|
Extensive railroad building in the 30 years before 1900 helped encourage economic growth. Railroad companies and the state government sought farmers from other states and foreign countries to settle on railroad lands. The population of Arkansas grew from less than 500,000 in 1870 to 1,300,000 in 1900. Farming boomed, lumbering became important, and coal and bauxite mining grew profitable. Cotton remained the chief money crop, although rice was introduced in 1894 and became important in the Grand Prairie region, near the town of Stuttgart. Central to agricultural growth after 1890 was large-scale drainage. By 1930 Arkansas had 8,005 km (4,974 mi) of ditches and ranked second only to Florida in area drained. Drainage, however, resulted in high taxes, overproduction, and falling crop prices that hurt all farmers.
Agricultural prosperity in the 1880s was followed by a period of drought and falling crop prices. Arkansas farmers began to organize agrarian self-help societies, which acquired political influence, and to rebel against Democratic control. Their political movement was called populism. Populists sought, among other measures, to institute farmers’ cooperatives on a national scale; to lower transportation costs by nationalizing the railroads; and to achieve a more equitable distribution of the costs of government by means of a graduated income tax. In the 1888 elections they united with labor groups and came within 15,000 votes of electing their candidate for governor. Over the next 12 years the state Democratic Party adopted many of the reform planks in the farmers’ platform. As a result, many farmers returned to the party, dividing the agrarian movement.
With the votes of the formerly populist white farmers, Jeff Davis of the Democratic Party was elected governor. Adopting the methods and ideas of the agrarian movement, Davis challenged the power of the railroads, trusts, and insurance companies. Although he was denounced as an unprincipled demagogue, Davis achieved political and penal reform, collected unpaid taxes from the railroads, regulated business practices, secured needed labor legislation, and paid off most of the state’s bonded indebtedness.
On the negative side, Davis attempted to destroy the already weak black educational system and publicly defended groups that killed blacks as punishment for a presumed crime, without due process of law. This practice was known as lynching. During these years segregation of the races became pervasive and racial tensions rose. By 1900, blacks had effectively lost the vote through state-imposed techniques such as a poll tax, which denied the vote to those too poor to pay it.
|I||Economic Developments in the 20th Century|
Arkansas experienced a number of economic advances in the first quarter of the 20th century. In 1901 natural gas was first exploited, in the Fort Smith area. In 1907 and 1908 the Ouachita and Ozark national forests were established and tourists began to take an interest in the hill country. In 1909 lumbering reached an all-time peak. In 1921 oil was discovered near El Dorado. The state’s first large hydroelectric dam, on the Ouachita River, was completed in 1924.
In 1927 the flooding waters of the Mississippi River burst the levees and spread over the Delta flatlands. Arkansas barely had time to recover from this blow when it was plunged into the nationwide Great Depression of the 1930s. Arkansas was hard hit by falling farm prices and unemployment, especially because fewer farm workers were needed as crop controls and decreased acreage were instituted under the Agricultural Adjustment Act, a federal program intended to raise crop prices.
Hard times during the 1930s in the Delta produced a notable radical agrarian group, the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union, which successfully focused national attention on plantation practices. The price of cotton had fallen soon after the Civil War and stayed depressed until the end of the century. Thus the tenants and sharecroppers found themselves in an endless cycle of debt. Laws were passed limiting the freedom of croppers and tenants and restricting their economic opportunities. For instance, they forfeited any share in crops they abandoned, and their personal property could be seized through chattel mortgages. It was not until World War II (1939-1945) that the tenant farming and sharecropping system began to disappear.
Dislocations were widespread during the Depression. Highways to the West were lined with so-called Arkies, packing all their possessions in old cars, headed for California to find work. When World War II came, Arkansans flocked to defense jobs in the country’s industrial cities, causing a further sharp decline in the state’s population. In 1955 the state government established an industrial development program to encourage the building of factories and to increase job opportunities. By the 1960s the program had brought discernible results, so that by 1970 the population was almost as large as in 1940.
Since the 1930s, as Arkansas has moved from a rural, agricultural economy to an urban, industrial one, the chief problem has been finding funds to support state services. The state’s fiscal problems in part relate to the low per-capita income of its people and the large numbers needing public assistance. They also relate partly to the state’s unwieldy constitution and subsequent amendments, which greatly limit the state’s taxing power. Legislation that would have modernized state government was rejected by the voters in 1970, 1980, and 1995.
The economy of the Ozarks and Ouachitas has been transformed by the rise of mass-production chicken farming, pioneered by Tyson Foods, and the enormous growth of Sam Walton’s Wal-Mart discount chain stores. By the 1990s the growing economy brought more than 100,000 Hispanic people into a region that formerly had a homogenous white Protestant population. The racially divided Delta, by contrast, continued to lose population.
|J||Politics in the 20th Century|
The Democratic Party maintained its dominance in state politics through the earlier 20th century. When Jeff Davis went to the U.S. Senate in 1907, the party again came under the influence of the conservative plantation owners and business leaders.
On the national scene, Arkansas Senator Joseph T. Robinson was prominent as the vice-presidential running mate of Alfred E. Smith, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for president in 1928. Later he was an effective though reluctant supporter of the federal New Deal programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which were designed to relieve the plight of workers hurt by the Depression of the 1930s. Other prominent Arkansas politicians were U.S. Senator and former Rhodes Scholar J. William Fulbright, a notable internationalist and critic of the Vietnam War (1959-1975) who chaired the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from 1959 to 1974; and John McClellan, a conservative. Their successors, Dale Bumpers and David Pryor, also achieved national recognition.
From 1900 on, state political contests mostly consisted of Democrats vying among themselves for office. In 1966, however, Winthrop Rockefeller, a Republican, was elected governor; he served two terms, but was defeated in 1970 by Democrat Dale Bumpers.
Rockefeller’s Republican victory was in part due to the unprecedented 12-year scandal-ridden administration of Democrat Orval E. Faubus, first elected in 1954. When the federal government ordered the integration of Little Rock’s schools in 1957, Faubus led a massive resistance movement, which gained nationwide attention. He became a hero to segregationists and was undefeatable from 1958 to 1964. However, Faubus chose not to run in 1966, allegedly because of financial scandals, and left the party badly divided. When he tried to make political comebacks in 1970 and 1974, he was unable to get the Democratic nomination.
In 1978 Bill Clinton, a Democrat concerned with social issues such as health care and education, was elected governor. Although defeated by Republican Frank White in 1980, he recaptured the governor’s seat two years later and held it until he was elected president of the United States in 1992. During the presidential campaign, Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, were plagued by charges of financial impropriety growing out of their involvement in Whitewater, an Ozark resort development of which they were part owners. In 1996 Democrat Jim Guy Tucker, Clinton’s successor as Arkansas governor, and two others were convicted on conspiracy and mail fraud charges growing out of a special prosecution in this so-called Whitewater Affair. The Whitewater Affair was also the subject of a U.S. Senate investigation. The convictions gave momentum to the investigation and lent credence to the view of some that Arkansas was home to a corrupt old-boy network that included President Clinton.
Tucker announced that he would appeal his conviction but would resign as governor. The result was expected to be further erosion of Democratic power in Arkansas to the benefit of the Republicans. Lieutenant Governor Mike Huckabee renounced a U.S. Senate seat to succeed Tucker and become Arkansas’s third Republican governor in the 20th century. In 1996 Republicans held two of the state’s four seats in Congress and some seats in the legislature, and dominated politics in western and northwestern Arkansas. The era of one-party domination had ended.
The history section of this article was contributed by Michael B. Dougan. The remainder of the article was contributed by Gerald T. Hanson.